Stanford at Utah: Caged Cardinal?
First Down: Traps on Traps
The game against Utah tomorrow is the first of many trap away games. The national spotlight will shine on The Farm for the games against No. 11 UCLA and No. 2 Oregon. In between those games, Stanford will dodge land mines at Utah, Oregon State and USC. In the Pac-12, no team should be overlooked. The conference is as deep as ever, and if Stanford looks past Utah this week in light of their game with UCLA next week, it could mean nail biting and hair pulling at the end for Cardinal fans.
Second Down: Special Teams
Believe it or not, special teams won the game for Stanford against Washington. Ty Montgomery’s 204 return yards and a touchdown made up for Stanford having 205 fewer offensive yards than Washington. Their return coverage hasn’t been too shabby either, allowing four yards per punt and 18.5 on kickoffs.
This production and coverage is sustainable. Both the coaches and players take it seriously. Shayne Skov almost cried when he heard he would not be covering punts, just kickoffs. With Barry Sanders joining the rotation on the punt return team, Stanford will continue their explosiveness. Even the field goal kicker, Jordan Williamson, has done his part, going 9-for-11 on the season.
Third Down: Travis Wilson’s Weakness
Travis Wilson’s six-interception performance lost the game for Utah last week. Wilson and the Utes went into half down 21-17. And after throwing five picks in the second, the game ended 34-27.
When it rains, it pours. Wilson’s nine interceptions have come in only two games. Stanford is second to last in the Pac-12 with six takeaways (just behind Utah). Wilson and the rest of his offense could provide Stanford the opportunity to turn it up. As of now, they have not needed the takeaways, but I’d bet they will against Oregon and UCLA. Ed Reyonlds and the secondary will try to return to their ball-hawking ways. Expect Stanford to frustrate Wilson with a pass rush and capitalize on his mistakes all game long— otherwise, they will be in trouble.
Fourth Down: Gun Or Run
Kevin Hogan only threw six times in the second half against Washington. The offense, touted for big-play, high-octane production, fell upon a conservative running game in that second half. Like most of the games this year, Stanford got out ahead and coasted to the finish.
This week, Shaw can decide whether he wants to reignite the deep game. He can get Hogan slinging the rock to Devon Cajuste and Ty Montgomery … or he can always decide to hand it off to Tyler Gaffney and his committee of backs. The game plan he chooses may be representative of the rest of the season. Fans may prefer the flashy team from weeks one through four. Shaw has tended to like the week five version, which just so happens to follow suit with the game plan during the Harbaugh-Shaw era. One thing is for sure: Get the ball in Ty Montgomery's hands and he'll do something good with it.
Follow Henry on Twitter @McKennAnalysis